Getting it right…

Posted on November 26, 2010


Jenny: “Professor, you say we ‘get it right’ not because we’re smart but because some parts of the world have remained stable for long periods of time – the sun rises, the seasons come and go, men are horny, women have babies – well not  having so many and a lot of women aren’t having any, etc. You also say that just because something has happened repeatedly in the past is no guarantee that it will happen in the future – the dinosaurs found that out when the comet hit the earth, and those who worked at the World Trade Centre found that out on 9/11, we all found it out when the market crashed in 2008. But we still get a lot of things right, not just simple things – we build buildings that are so high they tickle the sky, we fly to the moon.”

Peter: ” Yeah! And how about computers and the internet – that’s smart and complicated?”

Professor Wiggly: ”  You’re both right. I stand corrected. We ‘get things right’ when we concentrate our limited brain power on certain kinds of problems or puzzles – on those consisting of relatively stable components. For instance we do much better when we work on problems involving things or objects than we do when working on problems involving people. That’s why classical physics has been more successful – for instance the internet and trips to the moon – than economics (market crashes) or politics  (one war after another) or psychology (divorce, addictions, etc.). But notice as physicists encounter  problems involving more unstable components than billiard balls, when they work with lively sub-atomic particles or so-called strings, then the complexity is overwhelming – that world is much less predictable. Gobbldygook starts flowing out the physicist’s mouths and  smoke pours out of their ears. ”

Penny: ” I guess that’s why experts specialize, why they try to cut the world down into little sections, down to mind size. That’s why we have eye doctors, throat doctors, gut doctors, bone doctors, foot doctors – pretty soon well have doctors who only work on the left eye. The problem is that with living organisms, and most complex systems,  everything is connected – you muck around with one bit and other bits rattle. ”

Peter: ” Or you move one part a teensy bit and a month later all hell breaks loose with the other parts. Like a butterfly flapping it’s wings in South America leads to a cyclone in Texas…, or a teensy bit of lipstick on a collar leads to a big divorce…. That’s what you mean by complexity?”

Professor Wiggly: “Yes, but isn’t it astonishing  how many things still work – even  with all that complexity? This little planet in this great big magic universe  continues to provide a wonderful ride!”

Posted in: Sciencing